Facebook: A Tipping Point for Beacons & Highly Targeted In-Store Marketing?

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Jun 09 2015, Posted by Gary Lee

After trials earlier this year in New York, Facebook today announced their intention to expand their Facebook Place Tips program nationwide. And, Facebook is also offering Bluetooth beacons free of cost to retailers—likely in an attempt to seed the market with hyper-local marketing and advertising via their platform in the future.

The Facebook Place Tips program uses Bluetooth beacons to push Facebook posts and photos to shoppers while they’re in stores. This latest initiative by Facebook could be a major tipping point for beacon use and acceptance, as it overcomes one of the major hurdles involved with Bluetooth beacons: having shoppers download an app in order to receive these real-time messages.

To work and allow targeted marketing messages to be sent to shoppers in store, Bluetooth beacons require software (an app) on shoppers’ phones to interact with. For any retailer or brand who has been considering the use of beacons as a means to provide hyper-relevant content, this is a considerable hurdle to overcome, unless their apps are already well-used by shoppers and therefore can be easily made “beacon ready”.

Think back to the early days of QR codes and the requirement for shoppers to download an app, install the app, figure out the app, snap a picture of the QR code, etc., etc. The hurdles and pains were too high and that was a major reason why QR codes never really took the market by storm. Without a way for brands/retailers to overcome this hurdle of application installation and acceptance, Bluetooth beacons seemed as if they could be staring down a similar fate. But, some brands/retailers have been making some smart beacon moves, something Facebook’s new platform will only make easier for all.

As one example of how brands have worked to overcome beacon acceptance issues, McDonald’s recently expanded their beacon program in Turkey. The beacon program has been successful in converting visitors in and around Istanbul into food and beverage purchasers at McDonald’s. But to do this, McDonald’s piggy-backed its Beacon strategy onto an established Shopping Genie platform, used by shoppers in the Turkish market to gain access to coupons and discounts while shopping.

In my opinion, McDonald’s recognized that getting shoppers to download their own McDonalds-branded app was an uphill battle versus piggybacking onto an established app already widely used. That’s smart. But, not every retailer/brand may have/want to use a third-party app.

With this announcement today, Facebook is helping to remove this application hurdle for many retailers. It’s also offering the technology to do it, i.e. beacons, (for free) and a platform, i.e. Place Tips. Place Tips will actually allow a retailer to integrate within a customer’s Facebook presence. Any posts or photos shared by the retailer will appear at the top of the customer’s News Feed whenever they enter the retailer’s store.

Facebook so far has said that retailers cannot access this beacon network to start pushing their own, targeted advertising to shoppers. But, given the recent news by Instagram to open their advertising platform to others, we have to imagine Facebook is watching all developments in this space carefully, and if they see a path to revenue that benefits shoppers and retailers/brands, they too will open this up to others sooner than later.

Given that Bluetooth on smartphones is now turned on by default in almost every operating system, and more and more consumers are depending on Bluetooth to instantly and always connect with their in-vehicle music and navigation systems as well as various headphones, speakers and now wearables, the ability for devices to easily connect to Bluetooth-low-energy devices like beacons is pervasive.

And, given that Facebook has over 1.4 billion active users with many now accessing it on their smartphones, Facebook may have just started a movement to remove the final hurdle for brands and retailers to start bringing highly targeted content marketing in store via beacons.

We’ll be watching this carefully and exploring options with our brand and retail clients. But, we would love to hear what you think. Weigh in here—do you have plans to use beacons? And, does Facebook, and their incredible advertising platform for selecting exact targets open up new in-store marketing opportunities for you?

Image Credit: Facebook

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